Is the FBI Up to the Job?

By Corn, David | The Nation, October 15, 2001 | Go to article overview

Is the FBI Up to the Job?


Corn, David, The Nation


In May 2000, Louis Mizell Jr., a terrorism and security expert in Washington, received a call from Jake White, an acquaintance who was a bouncer at a strip club in Omaha. White told Mizell a disturbing story he had heard from a dancer at the club and another bouncer. Several nights earlier, they claimed, the dancer had been asked by two customers who, she believed, were Middle Eastern or Indian to perform privately for them at their home. She agreed and took the other bouncer along for protection. There was almost no furniture in the men's duplex, and on the wall was a picture of a man the dancer and bouncer took to be a religious figure from the Middle East. While in a bedroom with one of the customers, the dancer noticed a shoebox full of cash and items she took to be explosives. The bouncer meanwhile spotted automatic weapons and explosives in the kitchen and watched the other man look at cut-away diagrams of commercial airliners on a computer.

Neither the dancer nor the bouncer wanted to go to the authorities, White says, so he phoned Mizell, a former special agent and intelligence officer for the State Department. Mizell says he "quickly called the FBI and was passed from one agent to another. I then called the FBI in Omaha. They said to call headquarters." Mizell ended up giving the details to the FBI in Omaha, which, according to White, did not contact him, the dancer or the bouncer.

There is no known evidence linking the two strip-club customers to the events of September 11, and White's version of the tale told by the dancer and bouncer cannot be independently confirmed. A few days after the attack, the dancer appeared to have left town and was unreachable, and the bouncer was demanding to be paid for recounting his story. (The FBI in Omaha, which twice interviewed White after the attack, did not respond to requests for information.) Here's the crucial point: The FBI apparently did not act on the lead provided by Mizell, a credible source.

Was the FBI action--or lack thereof--in this matter unusual or representative? This is an important question, for in the aftermath of September 11, many politicians, pundits and national security experts have called for expanding the powers and prerogatives of intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, including the FBI. Attorney General John Ashcroft asked for quick passage of legislation that would expand the ability of federal investigators to conduct secret searches (including wiretaps and the interception of computer communications), to seize assets in nonterrorism cases and to allow for the indefinite detention of noncitizens without judicial review. …

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